Tag Archives: faith

Indigenous belief, Christianity and Ancestor Worship

An interesting question was asked over the chat in yesterdays Mimir’s Brunnr; How do you reconcile indigenous ancestor worship with generations of Christian ancestors?

I’d like to say the question baffles me. As much as the Christian denunciation of Heathenry as our ancestral faith because, “your ancestors were all Christian!”.

I’d like to say it baffles me, the sheer narrow minded, intellectualized and artificial nature of both the question and denunciation, but if I did it would only be by virtue of hindsight. Indeed, it is something I continue to wrestle with even today, for all that Wyrd has already taken care of all this for us.

I mean, we might have a problem with it, ie. Christianity, but there we have have, not only in the last, what, 50 generations or so of our ancestry, but outward and surrounding us in the present-tense, among our family, friends, and community.

We either have Christianity surrounding us among our folk, or we have the product/s of our culturo-historical experience with Christianity; of which we people of Anglo-Nordic belief are ourselves one example of.

Whether you can reconcile it in your mind or not, well, like “horns and horses” or “goats and thunder”, THERE IT IS. All of a piece in the heritage set at the foot of your cradle.

Something that I spotted out fairly early on as a Heathen was a tendency, perhaps subconscious as was the case with me, but a tendency nevertheless to imagine that the adoption of different gods somehow made us an entirely different form of man from our generations of Christian ancestors. And it only takes a sideways glance at 50 mph to see, historically, where this emphasis on ideological differences comes from. Who was it, historically, that imagined their ancestors were a completely different form of man? Such that they called them soulless, godless, lawless savages, and (ahem) “refused” to even bury their dead in the same graveyards as their ancestors?

So, while there is an ideological division there, certainly worthy of our thought and consideration, it was not born of our “folk-soul”. And it should never be allowed to define our folk-soul, which would, by its very nature, attempt to define our folk-soul out of existence.

And certainly, while I am none too sure about your own ancestors, mine weren’t exactly the “Church Fathers” demanding, under threat of law, that my ancestors bury their dead, not in native graveyards, but in Christian graveyards. My ancestors, Christian though they many have thought themselves, if only by virtue of there having been no other viable option at the time, lived under the yoke of the Church Fathers; where they never felt quite so comfortable as the Church Fathers told them they should, and so ultimately landed us where we, as people of Anglo-Nordic belief, are today, ie. not under the yoke of the Church Fathers.

Certainly, I don’t doubt that I have my ancestors, some of them quite immediate, who might conceivably have been quite mortified at my rejection of Christianity. But then, my maternal grandfather was a church-goer, not a “holy-roller”, but a man who behaved as though he had an obligation to get out there with the community every Sunday and spend some time thinking about God. He also use to tell me that “the Old Man is cracking his whip again!” when a thunderstorm was rolling in, bought me the first book I ever found on the runes (Tony Willis’ Runic Workbook lol), and seemed interested in my initial writings on Anglo-Nordic belief — “you’ve got some pretty deep thoughts there!” — while he was out here on Vancouver Island visiting just prior to coming down with cancer, et al.

When I call upon my ancestors and make offerings to them, I call upon them all. And much like the living, there might be some who want nothing of it. That is their choice, for them to make. Enjoy sheol, I guess? But on my end, as a person of Anglo-Nordic belief, it is offered to all, in thanks and remembrance of all … be they Anglo-Nordic of any kind or otherwise (eg. Christian, Slavic, Mi’kmaq).

The wheel keeps on rolling. As ever.

Virtue and the Guiding Principle

“Tir (Glory, Tiw) is a profound token, it holds true with the noble,
it is ever on course, over the mists of Night,
it never switches.” — the Old English Rune Poem

The GUIDING PRINCIPLE of a system of morals…

We often get lost in the details of morality, of specific virtues, the 10 Commandments for example, or the Nine Noble Virtues, eg. honesty, courage, hospitality, love for all, etc., and fixate on them to the exclusion of the *guiding principle* of ethical systems.

This is in part due to the guiding principle of most post-Conversion ethical systems; which is *obedience* to the author/authority, be it a pretense to God, a prophet, the Church, or the secular State.

Contravene the stated virtue, and you are “a criminal”. You are “evil”. Because, in keeping with their guiding principle, disobedience to authority = bad in those ethical systems.

And of course, under such systems, everyone is inevitably guilty. Mankind is fallen. Some just hide or otherwise rationalize or justify it better than others.

The guiding principle for Anglo-Nordic belief, and most other ethno-cultural or heathen/pagan belief systems however, is the maintenance of the health and wholeness, ie. the holiness, of “the tribe”; in the pursuit of which the “toolbox of values” contains the full range of potential, ingenuity and resourcefulness as found in human nature. And some of these might usually be considered deplorable, and justifiably so, when divorced from the guiding principle and outside of the appropriate circumstances.

Take lying for example. Germanic society was a very forthright culture, in which honesty meant the difference, legally speaking, between a run-of-the-mill offense an individual could wash their hands of with payment of fine, and a serious offense to the entire community, for which the offender would be manhandled by the powers-that-be in a manner that might otherwise breed division between folk and state. eg. imprisonment, flogging, execution.

Hence why the pronouncements of such penalties was taboo and allowed to the priest-king alone; who himself had to consult the will of the Tivar via the casting of lots.

Nevertheless, we have plenty of examples in the Norse-Icelandic mythology of even the most solid and forthright of the gods engaging in or otherwise acting as facilitators of acts of deceit.

“How can this be? Hypocrites!”, one might cry.

Indeed, many have cried exactly that regarding, most poignantly, Tiw (Tyr) and his role in the binding of the Fenwulf. Of course, they are estimating the act within the context of a foreign paradigm, in which the guiding principle is one of obedience. Hence why, within the native paradigm, Tiw so easily silences Loki on the matter in the Lokasenna, and Loki is left fumbling for some other matter with which to shame the God.

Even Loki understood what many of his would-be Heathen fans in the modern world don’t; Namely, the guiding principle of Anglo-Nordic belief, ie. the maintenance of the health and wholiness of the tribe.

To illustrate this in more homely terms; let us say that you, a parent with young children, heard of lunatics moving through your neighbourhood kicking in doors and kidnapping or murdering children. So, you’ve hidden your children safely away somewhere in your home. Hopefully you’ve also armed yourself and set up “inconveniences” for unwanted interlopers. But now the lunatics kick in your door, and demand to know where your children are. Do you tell them? Because lying is a sin? And that would be wrong? Do you refrain from killing them? Because man-killing is a sin? And that would be wrong? And if you imagine that such things would be wrong in those circumstances, do you honestly imagine that you are a good human being? A good parent? As you stand, glowing with self-righteousness, with your children dead at your feet, or spirited away into a life of suffering, abuse and misery? And you thinking, “well, at least I am still good with God/Church/State!”

Here we see how important the *guiding principle* is in determining good from evil, moral from immoral, wisdom from obedience, integrity from hypocrisy. How important in the application of the capabilities of our humanity.

And the guiding principle applies to one’s actions be they within the tribe or in relation to those outside of the tribe, ie. how shall my actions effect the well-being of my tribe?

Finally, lest we forget how the tale of the Fenwulf’s binding ends,

Then all the gods rejoiced, except Týr: he paid with his hand.”

Indigenous Attitudes: Magic and Germanic Belief

The “Lex Salica” or “Salic Law” represents one of the earliest recorded collections of Germanic customary law. In this case the Law Code reflected the laws of the Salian Franks and their Merovingian aethelings on the eve of Clovis’ conversion to Catholicism and some 50 years after their settlement in the northern region (Neustria) of the former Roman province of Gaul.

Among it’s various offenses we find those dealing with the practice of magic and harm done by magic, such as,

“If any one have given herbs to another so that he die, he shall be sentenced to 200 shillings (or shall surely be given over to fire).”

“If any person have bewitched another, and he who was thus treated shall escape, the author of the crime, who is proved to have committed it, shall be sentenced to 2500 denars, which make 63 shillings.”

“If somebody accuses another of witchcraft, and he brings to the thing the cauldron in which the accused is said to make brews, then let the accused be fined 2500 dinars which makes 63 shillings.”

“If somebody causes another person to waste away by means of witchcraft, and he is able to prove it at the thing, then let the accused be fined 1008 dinars which makes 200 shillings”

Some observations on the above…

To start, these are not my translations and the term “witchcraft” does not reflect the original language of the laws and/or that of the document they were record in. The specific term or terms that were used were certainly not *witchcraft*, which is fairly English specific in the Germanic world, and, for better and for worse, simply the term deemed equivalent in these modern translations.

The technical terminology really does matter, more-and-more, as one gets increasingly intimate with the subtleties and nuances of the subject, ie. not everything called “witchcraft” or “seidhR” (etc., etc.) actually reflect the practices of *witchcraft* or *seidhR* (etc., etc.).

Anyway, most of the Salic laws deal with *harm* caused by magic; lending a general no harm, no foul sense to the spirit of the laws There is however the one exception where presenting evidence of the mere practice of “witchcraft”, ie. the cauldron, no harm to anyone required, invited a legal penalty.

While this suggests a fundamental, and very understandable mistrust of “magic”, dealing as magic does in the hidden, the unseen, and indeed the anti-social, one will note that in each of the above citations, proof is explicitly demanded by the Salic law; even if the laws only outline the details of what constitutes proof in one instance; no doubt assuming what for them and theirs was culturally obvious. This suggests an equally fundamental mistrust of the very *accusation* of witchcraft, which again is very understandable given it’s “hidden” nature.

Finally, except for the one vague reference to being “given over to the fire”, ie. burned, the Salica Law prescribes “common penalties”, ie. fines, to these acts. Both of the acts that indicate the practice of harmful magic, but result in no harm, are otherwise prescribed at 63 shillings. This is an amount equal to those fines associated with the theft of an entire flock of 25 sheep, the *rape* (sexual) of a freeborn woman, the assault and plundering of a freeman, and attempted killing of a freeman. All of which were serious offenses.

Curiously, the two instances that result in death, result in a fine of 200 shillings, which, while clearly marking it as a far more serious offense than such others as mentioned, falls on the low-end of the wergild (life-price) system within the context of the Salic Law. This is equal to the fine for having been found guilty of grave-robbing, opposed the settlement of a migrant vouched for by king and thing, and the wergild of a woman beyond her child baring years and your average freeman.

By way of comparison, to have killed a freeman and then attempted to hide it (ie. murder as opposed to man-killing) carried a fine of 600 shillings; whereas death caused by magic was reckoned at 200 shillings.

One will also note the relative lack of reference to women in the Salic Laws as they pertain to the practice of “magic”. And that even where they are explicitly referenced in relation to witchcraft, they must also be viewed within the context of the greater body of Salic law and it’s valuation of women; which, as just referenced, reckoned the life-price of a vibrant and virile young freeman as equal to a woman beyond her child-baring years, and at THREE TIMES LESS than a freeborn woman in her child-baring years!

The AD 6th century Gallo-Roman Catholic, Gregory of Tours writes casually of those with prophetic powers within the context of royal Merovingian interactions. (eg. Guntram and the seeress).

The Merovingians were of course the same people who, some 35 years prior to the birth of Gregory, gave us the Salic Law, with it’s laws involving “magic” and “magical harm”.

Gregory also related a story in which a Merovingian queen, one of the wives of Chilperic, Fredegund I’d presume — who lived at the time of Gregory, and appears to have been loathed by him — ordered the torture of “a number of Parisian women” (and a man named Mumulus), believed to have killed her young son, Theodoric, via the use of herb potions and magic.

As Gregory wrote, “They admitted to the practice of witchcraft and the perpetration of many deaths… The queen afflicted them with even more horrendous forms of torture. Some she beheaded, others she cosigned to the flames, and still others were killed on the wheel with their bones broken.”

The Edictum Rothari (c.643 AD) is to Lombardic law what the Salic law is to Salian-Franks; a compilation and writing down of the formerly oral legal traditions of the Lombards. On “witchcraft” it states,

“If a man accuses a girl or free woman who is under the guardianship of another, of practicing witchcraft or prostitution,… if he shall persevere in his accusation and insist that he can prove it, then let the case be decided by a judical duel or “camfio” so that the matter may be left to the judgement of God”.

It also states,

“Let no man presume to kill another’s female servant for being a witch (striga or mascam) for such things are not credible to the Christian mind and it is not possible to eat a living man from the inside out.”

Here we get some insight into the seeming impatience behind the relation of the duel to the charges of witchcraft, and the notion that it represented little more than a vile slur against someone’s honour than anything more substantial.

This very Christian, very unheathen view of “harmful magic” would find further expression, as we read in Charlemagne’s Capitulary on Saxony (AD 782),

“If any one deceived by the devil shall have believed, after the manner of the pagans, that any man or woman is a witch and eats men, and on this account shall have burned the person, or shall have given the person’s flesh to others to eat, or shall have eaten it himself, let him be punished by a capital sentence.”

— Charlemagne, Capitulary on Saxony

This trivialization of witchcraft, the refusal to acknowledge it’s power, and ultimately the impatient will to punish the accuser, was the initial Christian reaction to Germanic “witchcraft”. And it stood in direct opposition to indigenous Germanic belief and general mistrust in magic along with accusations dealing in the unseen.

The earliest Anglo-Saxon Law Codes make no reference to the practice of witchcraft. Of course, it took Kent almost 100 years to draft laws against “devil worship”, so that is perhaps not at all surprising.

Nevertheless, the fundamental mistrust, indeed hostility, of at least the Anglii toward “harmful magic” is very apparent in a story Bede related regarding King Aethelfrith of Northumbria (late 6th to early 7th century AD) and a band of monks he encountered who were praying “against the swords of the barbarians” (ie. against Aethelfrith). Bede further writes,

“King Ethelfrid being informed of the occasion of their coming, said, “If then they cry to their God against us, in truth, though they do not bear arms, yet they fight against us, because they oppose us by their prayers.” He, therefore, commanded them to be attacked first, and then destroyed the rest”.

It is not until the Laws of Alfred that we begin see witchcraft enter the laws as a punishable offense; though we should remember that the orthodox Christian stance of the matter of witchcraft among the Germanic peoples was, up til now, that witchcraft was just so much superstitious hogwash. With Alfred’s Laws however we not only see witchcraft introduced as a punishable crime, but we see it introduced firmly within the context of the Old Testament,

“the women who are in the habit of receiving wizards and sorcerers and magicians, thou shalt not suffer to live”.

By the time of Cnut’s Laws we see the beginning of the conflation of witchcraft, not only with “harmful magic” and it’s own more traditional associations with secret killing, perjury, adultery, and incest, but also with such “heathen practices” as the “worship of heathen gods and the sun and the moon, fire or flood, wells or stones or any kind of forest tree”.

Conflation of various distinct disciplines, such as that of the spakona and seidhkona, are themselves clear in the North Germanic lore, and likely went the way of England in growing to include all sorts of heathen observances.

By the time of the witchhunts of the 15th and 16th centuries, it had expanded to include non-orthodox Christian belief; where heathen, heretic, and witch could be used more-or-less interchangeably. We see a similar evolution to the word racist in modern timers. And it is here that we modern folk first picked up the now muddled mess that the old magical and religious lore of our ancestors had become.

As a result, such things beg to be questioned. What is worship as opposed to the practice of magic? What is good magic and what is bad magic? And to what degree should those who dabble in such anti-social pursuits as influencing society via hidden (and often solitary) means be tolerated in our midst? And to what degree should accusations regarding “things unseen” themselves be tolerated?

A Word on Apples and Mead, Youth and Poetry

The Apples of Idunn and the Mead of Poetry…

Assuming the reader’s familiarity, one will note a certain commonality to the two myths, in that both involve a flight and pursuit in bird form that ultimately carries the Apples and the Mead back to the yard of the gods.

It is the tendency of analytical reductionist thought, so foreign to the more poetic thinking of our preChristian ancestors, to chase after these things, the Apples and the Mead, in two different directions.

“Soma is the mythological cognate of the Mead of Poetry!”

And so it is.

And yet soma was also glossed as amrita by the composers of the Vedas. The word amrita is cognate, both mythologically and linguistically, to the Greek ambrosia, and like ambrosia it confers immortality upon the gods.

The two are thus mythological cognates to the Golden Apples of Idunn. And suggest a deep significance and relationship between between the “youth” provided by the Apples and the “inspired poetry” provided by the Mead.

It is our religious hymns that shape and maintain the youth of our gods, and more poignantly our relationship with them.

Still not convinced of the relationship?

Feel free to ask Bragi and Idunn about it.

Ginnungagap

“Of old was the age when Ymir lived; neither sea nor cool waves nor sand there were; earth had not been, nor heaven above, only a mysterious abyss, and grass nowhere.”

— Voluspa, Poetic Edda

Ginnungagap, the oxymoronic “pregnant void” of Eddic Creation…

It is only called, as a proper name, Ginnungagap in the Prose Edda, while in the Voluspa the void is simply described as a gap that is ginnunga.

Most linguists trace it to a root (ginn-) meaning “vast, wide” and so can be seen to share a common root (P.I.E. *ghieh) with the Greek word chaos; as can the term gap itself. Thus rendering the seemingly redundant “gaping gap”, or “yawning gap” as it is more usually rendered.

In this we see a likeness to the seemingly and similarly redundant Sanskrit phrase “gahanaṃ gabhīram”, where gahan carries a range of meaning that includes “abyss, depths, impenetrable, inscrutable” and gabriha carries a range of meaning that includes “deep, depth, impervious, profound, mysterious”, and like Ginnungagap can yield something as equally literal and uninspired as “the deep depths”.

Of course, with the Sanskrit the connotations of “profound, mysterious” are immediately at our disposal, and made evident via the greater body of the Vedic hymn in which it appears, ie. the context in which the phrase appears. In the Old Icelandic ginn- such connotations seem to come only indirectly, in a much broader mytho-linguistic context, via compounds with the words holy (ginn-heilog; very holy) or regin (ginn-regin; great divine judges) or wih (Ginnunga-ve; sacred space of the ginnungar = ginnregin).

We do however find something of this sense of “inscrutable mystery” in the Old Icelandic word ginna meaning “to fool, to dupe, to intoxicate”, as we see in Gylfaginning. In this context we see it take on connotations of “surreal, dreamlike, mystical play on the senses”; which certainly speaks toward the primal nature of preExistence, which, in it’s vast and all-encompassing formlessness, is like an ink-blot in which any man who bothers to look can perceive whatever he might. Meaning, anything and everything. And different things at different times … reminding us of something that we might hear about regarding quantum physics and the effects of the observer on quantum reality, or the nature of light (ie. particles or waves).

Hence, to fool.

In Ovid’s work, Chaos is imbued with similar connotations,

“Before the ocean and the earth appeared — before the skies had overspread them all — the face of nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste. It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.

And so, whatever the literal meaning of Ginnungagap, more inspired renderings such as “Gap of All-potential” or “Gap of Mystical Bewilderment” or “Gap of Mystery” are seemingly obvious inferences that can be made not only comparatively or within the broad mytho-linguistic context of the North Germanics, but also within the context of the Voluspa itself; where everything arises out of the nothingness of the gap.

Ginnungagap … the point in retrospection at which the senses fail and become confused.

“Then was neither non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no heaven beyond it. What was sheltered within? And where? Under whose protection? Was it the primal waters, an ineffable abyss of mystery?”

— RigVeda, Hymn of Creation

 

Creation and the Power of Words

We must be very careful about the narratives, the stories, we weave about ourselves, or allow others to weave for us.

It is not without reason that the god who breathed the breath of life in Mankind at our creation, ie. Woden, is also the god who gave us the gift of language. Nor is it without reason that this same god gave us the gift of poetry, of magical songs, and indeed, the gift of Creation itself.

I recall watching some documentary a couple of decades ago, perhaps it was “Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World”, but whatever the case, it spoke of this shaman from one of those obscure hunter-gatherer cultures that still dot the world today, and how every morning he had to chant creation back into being by reciting his tribes creation hymns. If he were to fail in his task, creation would begin to unravel.

Creation is of course less a matter of conjuring, or even arranging the objective universe as it is of coming into an understanding of existence and our place within it. More poignantly, it is the ability to express and share (and gain further insight) into that relationship. As such the evolution of Creation, as a thing distinct from aconscious existence, is tantamount to the evolution of a peoples cultural matrix (world tree, mjotvidhr), in which language plays a significant role.

If you think back to just before your earliest memories, and then move forward, through your bewilderment at the greater world around you, the senselessness everything seemed to move with, how lost you were in it, only for the world to gradually order itself, to begin to make sense, you can get an inkling of the unfoldment of Creation, and the power of words in giving it shape and sense.

We can see the effect that negative language has on people who have been verbally abused as children. Some are stronger, less impressionable than others of course, but we have an inclination to conform to the stories we are told about ourselves, such that the person who is always told they are an idiot for instance might very well come to play the idiot. And all the more so the smarter they actually are; those smarts removing them as it does, not unlike the idiot, from the sensibilities of the common person. We see it in a more culturally pervasive form in the stereotypes of the smart but uncoordinated nerd and the dumb jock, when in fact the hallmark of the truly gifted individual is a fair to above average measure of competence in all fields even if they only excel in a few. The stereotype of the intellectual vs. the spiritual is yet another, that of the dumb blonde is yet another, despite the fact that such a gulf does not exist between spiritual and intellectual, and that blondes actually have a fairly high average IQ, ie. are smart, not dumb. One of my biggest and oldest pet peeves in this regard is the insistence that any person interested in their Germanic identity must be some “eyes of hate” reject from the Geraldo or Jerry Springer show, and how if you don’t look like that caricature, you must not be interested in your Germanic heritage. And yet for all of that, our need for identity reaches out… to whatever presents itself, and we conform, through no real fault of our own.

And so, as we see, having failed to “chant our creation hymns with each dawn”, for who we are as a people, forgetting our relationship to each other and our environment, our culture has unraveled and Ragnarok set in… just like that primitive shaman, chanting each dawn, knew it would.

This power of language is at the very heart and soul of the English word spell, as in a magical spell, as seen in the word gospel, which is Old English in origin (like so many other familiar terms frequently but erroneously deemed “Christian”) and literally translates to the “Spell of God”. The word spell itself refers, primarily, to the enthralling power of moving speech, of a powerful narrative.

Words have the power to build, mold, and/or breakdown Creation itself.

As such, we must be careful of whose stories we take to heart; stories about us, about our ancestors, about the world and our place in it.

Words have power. Respect that power. And where you play the role of the Shaper, eg. parent, wield them wisely.

Freedom

Freedom. It is an interesting word. A word that has been with the various Anglo-Nordic peoples since (at least) the dawning of Proto-Germanicism, which, like Celticism, was the only branch of the greater Indo-European tree that developed the notion out of a root (*pri-) that originally meant “beloved”.

This is the same root that we get the word friend from incidentally.

One might think of the development of the word free — from “beloved” to “not in bondage” — in terms of, say, who you would have as a room-mate in your home. Or who you would invite to home-sit for you while you were away on some extended trip. In short, in terms of who you would grant the freedom of your home to. And the answer is of course, to one’s beloved, to one’s friend/s, to those who are trustworthy and so can be trusted to conduct themselves as you yourself would; and who are thus free to “act as they will” (ie. in a beloved, friendly manner) within one’s home.

Certainly, one could argue that such a state isn’t exactly “unburdened by constraint”, but it is not a conscious matter of legalities and/or a check-list of criteria either. Friendship and the freedom that walks hand-in-hand with it are mostly organic evolutions, the unconscious attraction of like to like, such that among friends there is not a feeling, much less a manifestation of constraint. Each are acting, unrestrained according to their own habits of conduct, as they please. It’s just that the conduct that pleases one is also the conduct that pleases the other, eg. I don’t have to demand that you wash your dishes because you dislike dishes piling up just like me and act accordingly.

A common thew is shared between friends, and in a broader cultural sense between the free; thew being an Old English (and uniquely West Germanic) word that means “custom, habit, morals, conduct” and carries implications of “sinew, muscle, strength”, acting as what we today might call “social fabric”.

One could thus easily say that, like friendship and freedom, thew and freedom walk hand-in-hand; though again one is forced to acknowledge that thew doesn’t necessarily leave the individual “free of constraint” in any universal or objective manner, and contains within itself an implicit set of criteria which, if not organically met, will certainly leave a new-comer feeling constrained, a long-stander ashamed, and in either case, as the odd-one-out.

“Everyone! Look! There’s Johnny!!! He has no clothes on!!!”

Freedom it would thus seem is something of a relative state, that comes with implicit constraints that are most apt to be imparted and enforced socially, organically. Indeed, by the reckoning of our ancestors — in fact by the reckoning of common sense — freedom had no effective existence outside of social interactions and relationships, outside of human society, and was a thing that could only be achieved in relation to one’s fellow man.

To be free meant, to our ancestors, the freedom to take part in society; shouldering it’s obligations and benefiting from it’s privileges.

In contrast to the free, our ancestors had, not so much the thrall or slave, much less the young — both of which had no rights under law, but nevertheless benefited from the rights and freedoms enjoyed by their owners or adult relations — but rather the wretch, who, regardless of his degree of self-sufficiency, was left without either law or loved ones to shield him and secure his rights, to care for him in sickness and/or old age, and who was left to contend with the merciless tyranny of nature and any man or group of men that wanted to work ill-will upon him. And whose line would, at best, end with him, or alternately, produce offspring who would be damned to a wretched life of loneliness, hopelessness, and perhaps even inbred dysfunction.

As the Havamal poem says, “Man rejoices in man”. Likewise the Old English Rune Poem.

This freedom to take part in society, as a member of society, was imparted by our Anglo-Nordic ancestors at the tribal assembly, the (ahem) “state” assembly, as noted as early as Tacitus, who wrote,

Then in the presence of the council one of the chiefs, the young man’s father, or some kinsman, equips him with a shield and a spear. These arms are what the “toga” is with us, the first honour with which youth is invested. Up to this time he is regarded as a member of a household, after-wards as a member of the commonwealth.”

It can also be gleaned in the respect of the indigenous Germanic state for freedom and thew, as seen in it’s largely fine based system of crime and punishment. Their system of crime and punishment was itself a manifestation of Anglo-Nordic thew, representing one aspect of our shared customs and habits of conflict resolution; a thew evolved to deal with the inevitable sprains and tears in thew, which, as such, remained largely in the hands of the people and their locality, to be used or not used, used well or poorly, as the participants saw fit, and in which the state played little to no role. This led to the characterization of the Icelandic gothar for example as being “lazy” and/or (ahem) “too permissive” in regards to the conduct of their folk, ie. “too respectful” of their freedom. Only in the most severe of cases, such as deeds which threatened to undermine the collective trust, eg. secret killing, was the state empowered to mete out more familiar legal punishments such as flogging, imprisonment or execution. This attitude extended to military service outside of a certain distance from one’s own locality among the Anglo-Saxons. No law could be invoked to oblige a man to take part in his king’s call to muster or force a man to go aviking; though thew might well prompt a man to do so at least once in his youth. Whatever the case, as a matter of both law and thew no man would be forgiven for failing to rise to the defense his own locality and he would be dealt with very harshly, be it by law or mob, and understandably so I would think, by his neighbours within that locality for refraining to do so.

It can also be seen in the beliefs and functioning of the Germanic hierarchy as well; in which the free could fall into thralldom (play at dice anyone?), the thrall win his freedom, and being the firstborn of the reigning king vouchsafed one nothing. As the Havamal states, a king’s son, an uppity thrall, none should be so trusting as to trust in these. Unlike the caste structure of our fellow Indo-European belief system, Hinduism, the indigenous Germanic hierarchy was dynamic rather than static, and while ancestry certainly meant something, the ability of the individual was given it’s rightful due. And the right of even a thrall to self-rule — not to mention basic obligation of self-sufficiency — under his own roof-tree was recognized and observed; albeit by thew rather than by law.

The problem with freedom in this post-modern world is a lack of thew, a lack of common identifiers, and the self-regulation that comes with it. And it was toward the notion of thew in general that Tacitus was speaking when he wrote, “good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere.”, and provide the real reason why, among the Anglo-Saxons for example, state executions were so rare (ie. based on an examination of felon graveyards).

Not strong laws, but strong thew.

Freedom flows upward, out of the soil, into the sole’s of one’s feet, and throughout one’s entire being. And only then can it, not so much descend, from “on high” as it were, from the state, as simply turn about, reflect and affirm, that which gave it life and upon which it’s continued vitality relies. Freedom does not come from political institutions, laws, or intellectualized social constructs or ideologies.

Freedom comes from the habits of a people. From thew. Or not at all. And thew cannot be all things to all people. It cannot be intellectualized and instilled. It evolves through local, first person interaction.

Musings on the Vanadis

freyja

It is often said of the Nordic goddess Freyja that she is a goddess of sexuality. While that might very well be the case, the notion is often carried out into the murky realm of whoredom which folk seek to rebut simply by trying to recast “bad” as “good”.  Lending to this notion of “Freyja as whore” folk will cite the Eddic lore that states that she has lain with all of the gods, her own brother included; that she is comparable to the mythic goat Heidhrun prancing about in heat, and of course the tale in which she lays with four dwarves so as to win the fabled necklace Brisingamen. Of course, the first two bits of lore come, within the stories, from the mouths of her detractors (Hyndla, Loki) and can hardly be taken at face value, while one of the Icelandic sagas, Njal’s saga I believe it was, relates how a Christian Icelander was outlawed for calling the Vanadis a whore/bitch. So, all we truly have in this regard, beyond some very questionable hearsay, is the tale of the Brisingamen, the precise nature of which we today are left largely to guess at.

My purpose however is not to disprove Freyja’s association with sexuality or, really, to wax at all academic on the matter. Rather I would simply shake up such conventionally accepted notions as surrounds the goddess and offer a perception of her that is not the product of those out to discredit and undermine her (and indeed out indigenous beliefs themselves as a whole) by an utter reluctance to see beyond the base carnal realities that all higher truth is rooted in.

It is that “higher truth” that we should be interested in.

As with all good lies, there may indeed be some kernel of truth to the words of Freyja’s detractors. Freyja may indeed have been regarded as having a strong sexual component. Rather than casting her as some two-bit mortal whore however, one might be inclined to say that she is the spirit of the passion that exists between lovers. And so that where there are lovers engaged in a “passionate embrace” there is Freyja. Following these carnal lines alone, one might say, in this regard, that highest expression of Freyja would have been more similar to Hinduisms Kama Sutra and certain Tantraic teachings rather than the “Girls Gone Wild” nonsense of the low-minded and uncultured.

Indeed, I have reason to believe that the magical art of seidhR, that is so strongly associated with Freyja, and was so “strongly opposed” by the early Church in Norway, was a cult that taught mysto-magical arts of seduction, ie. the generation of sexual energy and it’s use to manipulate the mind of other beings.

But as the spirit of sexual passion, to refer to Freyja as a whore is to misunderstand and cheapen the fundamental value of sexuality, the intense passion of lovers for one another, and to drive the very spirit of passion itself from one’s bedroom; a passion that extends well beyond the bedroom and into the higher realms of passionate devotion for one another as reflected in the supreme value the indigenous Germanic people placed on monogamy, and mythically reflected  in Freyja’s own longing for her absent lover OdhR (Mental Excitement).

But Freyja is more even than the spirit of sexuality, or even of passion in general, but also of sensuality and what my high school Western Civ. teacher would have called “the aesthetic experience”; which itself was basically a recasting of Plato’s hierarchy of thought. Freyja promotes a fine appreciation of all the better things in life, noting, indeed, relishing in their fine and subtle details, like the brush strokes of a painting, the subtle differences in taste of a fine wine, etc.

A stately connoisseur of beauty. A Lady. A Freyja.

Indeed, I would tend to think that much of Freyja-lore survived, after a fashion, and can be gleaned in Eleanor of Aquitaine and her so-called “court of love”, where the ideas of ideas of courtly love, chivalry and the troubadours were brought together; not so much as a pure expression of Eleanor’s native Germanic spirit, but as a reaction of that spirit to the increasingly rigid structure of NW European society that began with the absorption of southern European culture and the introduction of Abrahamic Christianity.

The knightly notion of the lady as muse, be it in battle, or as found re-expressed in the Renaissance, in the production of art.

After Death: Certitude or Mystery?

skeleton

The importance of the remains of the dead, their treatment, their burial, the tending of graves and honouring of one’s dead kinsfolk and heroes. It was an important aspect of the elder Germanic beliefs; with enough parallels in both the beliefs of their fellow Indo-European cultures and the associated archaeological record, to nail it down as a very ancient, very significant, and very enduring thing.

But was Hell simply the grave and grave mound? Was the soul truly and irrevocably bound to it’s remains? Was there in fact no Germanic “afterworld”, beyond life in the grave-mound, as more than one well informed person has proposed? And indeed if the remains of one’s ancestors were lost and/or forgotten so to were their souls to the kindred?

Well, I like this perspective. It’s something that began to dawn on me a couple of decades ago after reading Gronbech’s “Culture of the Teutons”; in which he drew a parallel between the cosmology of the Eddas and the physical realities of a tribe’s surroundings. And there is a lot in elder Germanic lore that certainly points in this direction.

However, while this understanding is a very good foundation — rightly shifting our attention, energy and emphasis away from the otherworld and on to this world, away from the goldstar we will get in some otherworld and on to the legacy we leave for the benefit of our community and descendants that remain in this world after we have departed, ie. world accepting — it nevertheless presents certain inconsistencies with other aspects of both Germanic and Indo-European lore; which, from subtle indications of language and elder figures of speech to ship-burials are suggestive of both a journey, and hence a destination, following death … undertaken from within the gravemound it would “certainly seem”.

For all of that, I still find that the Eddas, paint too detailed and too certain of a picture about such things. Who knows what lies ahead in that great journey taken after death? The dead … of which none of us are at this moment. As with the nature of the Tivar, I tend to dislike sharp and certain definitions of things a person doesn’t really know anything more-or-less about than anyone else. Certainly we have a sense of “life after death” … a sense that is of course the strongest in the presence of the bones of our ancestors, but if the ancient Greeks are any testament, a mound is a mound is a mound, each as the other a gate to Hades apparently, whether or not their ancestors or heroes were actually buried in “that” particular mound or worshiped at many different mounds in different localities. But no, certitude was never a promise or pretense of elder Germanicism, which was always happy to own it’s sense of things while happily letting those things be whatever they actually are apart from their sense of them. As can be gleaned in the following passage from Bede’s History of the English Nation, the elder culture knew how to honour to *mystery*,

“The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the hall wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry weather. But after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short while. But of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

And in the poem Beowulf as it pertains to the death, funeral and otherworldly fate of Scyld Sceafing,

“Men do not know
truth be told, neither counselors
nor heroes under heaven, who unshipped that cargo.”

And in Book I of the Gesta Danorum,

“she drew him with her underground, and vanished… <snip> … purposed that he should pay a visit in the flesh to the regions whither he must go when he died. So they first pierced through a certain dark misty cloud, and then advancing along a path that was worn away with long thoroughfaring… <snip> … Going further, they came on a swift and tumbling river of leaden waters, whirling down on its rapid current divers sorts of missiles, and likewise made passable by a bridge… <snip> … Then a wall hard to approach and to climb blocked their further advance. The woman tried to leap it, but in vain, being unable to do so even with her slender wrinkled body; then she wrung off the head of a cock which she chanced to be taking down with her, and flung it beyond the barrier of the walls; and forthwith the bird came to life again, and testified by a loud crow to recovery of its breathing.

Did our ancestors believe in life after death? Certainly. But certitude about such things as no man can be certain about is not a selling point of the elder beliefs. As ever, truth is more about questions and less about answers. Beware the man who is certain about things no man could possibly be … for within him grow the seeds of evil.

Our Story

Indigenous Germanic belief was never so sharply compartmentalized a thing as we think of today when we think of religion. Certainly, our ancestors had their notions of what might properly be thought of as religious … those things “set apart” in dedication to the gods and their worship, and which were mostly the preoccupation of the tribal priests and/or head of household … but those beliefs impacted all other aspects of their culture. Language, poetry, mead, farming practices, battle formations, social institutions, tribal land masses, etc. were all ascribed sacral origins by our ancestors. There was no sacred-profane dichotomy, but rather a “trichotomy” of the sacred (wih), the blessed community (holy), and everything else outside of that (unholy, ie. not whole, not integral to the community).

While, in the past, Christianity came to replace the theological aspects of our indigenous beliefs, it did not mark the end of our beliefs from a properly heathen point of view. Ideology does not define our folk in the same way as it does universalists. The conversion was not the end of our story. Our languages continued, our folk cultures continued, our cultural perceptions and biases continued … not only to BE impressed, but to IMPRESS itself upon Christianity … and our blood continued.

Our story has continued, as ever, to grow and evolve in accordance with our historical experience … in accordance with our native notion of law, of precedent. Our Christianized ancestors of yore, for better and for worse (but mostly for worse), laid down a new precedent … and we have laid down other precedents since … the Eddic “laying of layers” … that have enabled us “heathens” to arise again and lay down a new precedent of our own, which is itself an old one … that recognizes our sacral origins as a people and the value of who we are. But it is all our story as the offspring of NW Europe. There is no Christian history or Heathen history. There is only European history, Germanic history. Our story.